GLOBEFISH – Information and Analysis on World Fish Trade-In (2020)

The nutritional benefits of fish are unique

The right to food implies sufficient food should be available and every person on this planet should have the means to access safe and nutritious food for a healthy life. The right to food is a fundamental human right protecting the right of every individual to be free from food insecurity, hunger, and malnutrition.

Fish and fishery products play an important role in food and nutritional security around the world. Consumption of fish offers unique nutritional and health benefits and is considered a key element in a healthy diet. Increased attention is given to the fish market as a source of essential nutrients in our diets, not only high-value proteins but more importantly also as a unique source of micronutrients and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.

An irreplaceable source of long-chain fatty acids

Foods from the aquatic environment have a particular role as a source of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is a major building block of our neural system, and therefore particularly important for optimal brain and neurodevelopment in children. Alternative sources of omega-3 fatty acids are found in many vegetable oils, but this is mainly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)  that needs to be converted into DHA. However, in our bodies the conversion from ALA into EPA and DHA is in many cases inefficient, making it difficult to rely only on vegetable oil during the most critical periods of our lives,  namely during pregnancy and the first two years of life (the 1,000-day window). A recent FAO/WHO expert consultation concluded that fish in the diet lowers the risk of women giving birth to children with suboptimal development of the brain and neural system compared with women not eating fish (FAO (2011).

The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2010, FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. Rome, FAO. 218p.

Fish consumption is also known to have health benefits among the adult population. Strong evidence underlines how consumption of fish, and in particular oily fish, lowers the risk of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) mortality; it is estimated that fish consumption reduces the risk of dying of coronary heart diseases by up to 36 percent due to the long-chain omega3 fatty acids found in fish and fishery products.  CHDs are a global health problem affecting all populations. A  daily intake of 250mg EPA+DHA per adult gives optimal protection against CHD (Mozaffarian,  D.,  Rimm,  E.B., 2006. Fish intake, contaminants,  and human health:  evaluating the risks and the benefits. JAMA, 296, 1885-99.). For optimal brain development in children, the daily requirement is only 150 mg per day.

Aquaculture to meet the increasing demand for fish

With a growing population worldwide, the demand for fisheries products will increase even if the per capita consumption remains at the present world average level of  19  kg/year  (FAO, 2012).

It is believed that this increased demand will mainly be met from the increased output of aquaculture products, and not from wild sources.